Cuba Crash Death Toll Rises, Safety Concerns Raised Over Prior Airline Incidents

May 20, 2018

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On Friday, a Boeing 737-200 crashed into a yucca field shortly after takeoff from Jose Marti International Airport (HAV) in Havana, Cuba, killing 110 passengers and crew. The Cubana de Aviación flight was operated by Aerolineas Damojh, also known as Global Air. Now, new reports are raising serious safety concerns about the airline.

The aircraft was one of three aging Boeing 737s in Global Air’s fleet. According to AirFleets.net, the 39-year old Boeing 737-200 was the oldest aircraft operated by the charter airline. The two surviving aircraft are a Boeing 737-200 built in 1988 with the current registration XA-UMQ and a Boeing 737-500 built in 1991 registered as XA-UZK.

While older aircraft themselves aren’t necessarily dangerous, new details are emerging of safety issues at the small charter airline. The crashed aircraft had been barred from entering the airspace of South American country Guyana. According to Guyanese Civil Aviation Director Capt. Egbert Field, Global Air had been “dangerously overloading” luggage on its flights. Inspections unveiled not just unsafe luggage storage in the belly of the aircraft but also found suitcases stored in aircraft bathrooms.

In November 2010, a 35-year old Boeing 737 was forced to make an emergency landing in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, when the aircraft’s front landing gear failed to deploy. No passengers or crew were injured, and the resulting fire was extinguished by emergency personnel.

On Saturday, the Mexican government announced that its National Civil Aviation Authority will perform an operational audit of Damojh Airlines to see if its “current operating conditions continue meeting regulations.”

Black Boxes Recovered

Crash investigators have been able to secure the black box — the generic term for the aircraft’s cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder. The recorders are reported to be in “good condition.”

As an aircraft owned by Mexican airline Global Air, Mexican officials have sent two civil aviation specialists to join the investigation. Boeing released a statement that it has a technical team “ready to assist as permitted under U.S. law and at the direction of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board and Cuban authorities.”

Updated Death Toll and Nationalities Identified

Of the 113 souls on board the flight, 110 perished in the crash. The three survivors, all Cuban women, remain in critical condition at a hospital in Havana. This loss of life makes this crash Cuba’s most deadly accident since 1989, when a Soviet Ilyushin-62M crashed killing 150 passengers, crew and bystanders.

Friday’s six-person crew were all Mexican citizens. A vast majority of the passengers on the flight were Cuban, with only five non-Cuban passengers believed to have been on-board. Two Argentinian citizens were confirmed to have died in the crash. One Mexican tourist and two passengers “from Western Sahara” were the other foreigners reported to have been on-board the doomed flight.

Among the 110 victims of the plane crash were 20 evangelical Nazarene Church priests, according to a member the Cuban Council of Churches.

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